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UN Says Bird Flu Still A Threat

An Indonesian worker stands next to burning chickens as authorities slaughtered around 2,700 of them infected by the H5N1 virus, in Jembrana, 29 March 2007. Two people have died in Indonesia after testing positive for bird flu, the country's health ministry said 29 March 2007. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Claire Levenson
UPI Correspondent
United Nations (UPI) April 03, 2007
There have been fewer cases of bird flu tallied this year than at the same time last year, but Egypt, Indonesia and Nigeria have not managed to contain the deadly H5N1 virus, which has now spread to new regions, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said Monday.

"Egypt and Indonesia are heavily infected, as is Nigeria, though to a lesser extent. This situation is a constant call to increase global efforts to contain this disease before it has an opportunity to mutate into a form that can threaten the world with a human pandemic," FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Joseph Domenech said Monday in Rome.

Since the beginning of 2007, 17 countries have been affected by bird flu. The virus has killed at least 171 people worldwide since the first human cases appeared in Hong Kong in 1997.

For each transmission of the virus from poultry to humans, there is the threat that the virus will mutate and spread from person to person. If this mutation happened, it would lead to a pandemic claiming millions of lives, FAO experts said.

"The risk of a pandemic will be with us for the foreseeable future," Domenech said.

While Thailand, Vietnam and Turkey have been successful in containing the virus, three other countries are still facing serious difficulties in dealing with it.

In Indonesia, which has the world's highest H5N1 death toll with 66 human deaths, 31 of 33 provinces have infected poultry.

FAO officials are training veterinarians and farmers in Participatory Disease Surveillance, which is aimed at generating a better understanding of avian influenza. Informing the local population is crucial because farmers are often afraid to admit there are sick birds in their village for fear of losing a source of food and income, according to FAO veterinarians who worked in the area.

Dr. Jeff Mariner, a veterinarian for FAO, said in December 2006 decentralized decision-making procedures in Indonesia had hampered prevention and control at the national level. Among other causes for inefficiency, the U.N. agency also noted the weakness of Indonesia's national veterinary service, as well as insufficient funding.

Egypt, where 13 people died of the virus since the first human case appeared in March 2006, has also faced problems because the government failed to compensate farmers who lost poultry to culling, FAO said.

In Nigeria, authorities have been unable to control the movement of poultry out of infected regions, and the bird-flu virus has spread to new areas since the first deadly case was reported in February 2007. There have been no other deaths since.

Some 300,000 poultry in Nigeria have died due to H5N1, and another 400,000 have been culled as part of control measures, the FAO said. In a statement issued in February, the U.N. agency reported outbreaks in at least 10 states of Nigeria.

The nation is the only country in sub-Saharan Africa to have reported a death caused by the virus.

While some countries are unable to contain the threat, new regions are becoming infected.

In March the virus was detected in Bangladesh, where scientists said it was probably introduced by migratory birds.

Domenech also noted three countries had been particularly successful in containing the virus.

In Vietnam, there were no cases of human bird flu reported in 2006 and 2007. This is due to a national strategy that includes massive vaccination of poultry, culling and improved hygiene.

Thailand and Turkey were similarly singled out for their effective measures against propagation of infected poultry. In Thailand, there hasn't been a human case of the disease since August 2006, and Turkey eradicated the virus in March 2006, FAO officials said.

"The presence of H5N1 in wild birds is less than it was last year when we saw a surge in the virus, particularly in Europe. Also there is more transparency, better surveillance and improved and timelier reporting of outbreaks," Domenech said.

Source: United Press International

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